Spike Lee defended the title of his new movie Chiraq at a press conference in Chicago on Thursday, but offered little in the way of plot or casting details to defuse the controversy surrounding the film.
The title of Lee’s film, purportedly about gun violence in the Englewood section of Chicago, has faced criticism from some, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for its provocative implication: a fusion between the gun violence-drenched streets of Chicago and war-plagued Iraq.
Appearing at the press conference with actor John Cusack, the Rev. Michael Pfleger and members of gun violence support group Purpose Over Pain, Lee said the “people who are judging from afar” should not weigh in on the film’s title, which he suggested could change.
“A lot of things have been said about this film by people who know nothing about the film,” Lee told the media, according to the Chicago Tribune. “A lot of people have opinions about the so-called title of the film. So we thought it was appropriate that we say what the narrative is – the filmmakers, the people doing this – not people who are judging from afar and, again, don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”
The “Chiraq” moniker has irked Chicago city officials for some time; last year, residents and officials took to social media to launch a campaign aimed at discouraging the use of the suggestive nickname.
According to CBS Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel met with Lee last month to air his displeasure with the film’s title.
“I told him there were very good people in Englewood who are raising their families,” Emanuel told CBS. “There are very good people in Englewood.”
Still, Lee said the title of his film is not meant to be an indictment of the city.
“We have to stop the madness. This is insane. This is nothing to do about Chicago losing tourism. This is not about Chicago losing business,” Lee said at his press conference.
Of course, Lee has tackled controversial topics in his previous films; 1989’s Do The Right Thing, 1992’s Malcolm X, 1995’s drug-dealing caper Clockers and 1997 documentary 4 Little Girls have all touched on themes of race and violence.
Cusack, a native of Chicago, bolstered Lee’s defense of the film, saying he was “very proud” to be in it and that its scope extended outside Chicago to “any urban American city where poverty and violence and desperation are so ever-present.”
“Spike called me up and told me what he was up to. We met, and he looked me in the eye, and said, ‘Johnny, the only reason to do this film is to help save lives,'” said Cusack. “I love my city of Chicago – all of Chicago – and I would never do anything to hurt it.”
“I am 100 percent sure that the great city of Chicago can survive a film of conscience, just like it did Transformers,” the actor joked.
Oddly enough, the film may not be the gritty, violence-drenched affair that the title’s critics think it is. ScreenDaily reported this week that Chiraq is a “reimagining” of the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata. In the original work, the women of Greece decide to withhold sex from their spouses until the men put an end to war. ScreenDaily says Chiraq will similarly “center on a woman’s quest to end gang warfare in Chicago,” presumably using similar means.
While not much is yet known about the film, Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack are both reportedly circling roles, while Jennifer Hudson may also have an unspecified part. The film will reportedly be released on Amazon in the United States, though it is also being shopped at this week’s Cannes Film Festival.